How and where did Islam originate?
How important were its contributions to art, culture and science?
The birth of Islam
The word Islam
has two meanings. On the one hand, it is the religion
preached by Mohammad in the 7th
century. On the other, it is the empire
conquered by the Muslims during the 7th
and 8th centuries.
The Islamic religion started in Arabia,
a vast desert area. The inhabitants of the Arabian Peninsula were organised in
tribes which were constantly fighting and there was no political or cultural
and religious power to unite them. Most of the tribes were polytheistic.
Mohammad, the founder of Islam
the prophet of Allah, was born in the city of Mecca
in 571 into a family of wealthy merchants. At the age of 40, he started to
preach a new religion, Islam, which means submission to God.
This new religion was not welcome in Mecca and
Mohammad had to flee to Medina in 622.
This date is known as Hegira and
marks the beginning of the Muslim calendar.
Eight years later, Mohammad returned victorious
to Mecca and from there he spread Islam. Upon his death, in 632,
almost all the Arabian Peninsula was
The expansion of Islam
After Mohammad’s death, the Muslim army
extended the new religion through the
Jihad or holy war.
They created a great empire. The expansion was undertaken in three
During the Orthodox caliphate (632-661),
the Muslims conquered Syria,
They fought against the Byzantines but then internal struggles for power led
to a new dynasty.
The Omeya caliphate (661-750),
the capital of the empire was moved to Damascus.
This dynasty expanded through northern Africa
and conquered the Iberian Peninsula.
However, it was unsuccessful in its efforts to defeat the Byzantines. An
internal revolt gaye the power to the Abassids.
With the Abassid dynasty (750-1258),
the capital was established in Baghdad.
Because of numerous internal struggles to seize power, the decline of
the empire started.
A cultured society
Islam developed a
brilliant civilization characterised by the contributions from both the Arab
culture as well as former societies in the Peninsula. The Muslims translated
many works by Greek and Roman philosophers into Arabic. These translations as
well as techniques from ancient Persia, India and China, such as paper, spread
through the West.
They also created
great libraries, as in Baghdad, Córdoba and Cairo. They cultivated poetry and
music, wrote many travel books, geography and history. They wrote
extraordinary narrations which they copied with beautiful calligraphy, such as
The Arabian Nights.
development of science
The Muslims brought
gun powder, the compass and the astrolabe from India and China. These last two
instruments played an important role in the development of navigation. They
were also great astronomers and mathematicians. They made catalogues of stars,
they started to use zero and the Arabic numerals, they invented algebra and
improved arithmetic and trigonometry.
In medicine, they
developed advanced surgery and anaesthesia techniques, which have come down to
us thanks to the works of two renowned doctors, Avicena and Averroes.
The Muslims invented
the still used in the distillation of alcohol and introduced sorne discoveries
in agriculture, such as the waterwheel, and irrigation techniques, and new
crops, such as rice, oranges and saffr
cultural splendour of Córdoba
With more than 100,000
inhabitants in the lOth century, Córdoba was one of the most populated and
important cities in the West. Only Baghdad and Constantinople were more
populated at that time.
Archangel Gabriel and
Slavs and Visigoths